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Bringing Art to Schools in the Peninsula

Kids get hands on with art!

By Rachel Kelly

hands on art gig harbor

Twenty years ago, parents here in the Peninsula got together to ensure that their children had access to quality art instruction in schools. Schools are responsible for a lot when it comes to our kids. They take on the emotional, physical and mental well-being of the students under their care. However, they have certain educational standards that must be met. This can mean that art isn’t fully funded in schools. While this was true here in the Peninsula, these parents still felt that art was essential—a valuable part of expression that pays its dividends in the positive impact it has on kids, both in and out of the classroom.

Art is a form of emotional regulation, a chance for kids to make something tangible that they can hold in their hands. Art gives an immediate reward. It’s relaxing, creative, and it yields direct results. It’s quantifiable. Art classes are safe spaces, breaks in the daily routine. They are places that cultivate peace and inclusion and are a valuable support for education. In elementary school especially, art helps develop that part of the brain that thinks outside the box, encouraging visual and spatial development. Math and science also play out in the brain both spatially and visually, however art is a fun and exciting way to support that development. What’s more, no student complains that they have to attend art class. It’s no wonder why parents in the Peninsula wanted art in schools. Still, there was the problem of funding, which is why the nonprofit Peninsula Hands on Art was formed. Now, decades later, Peninsula Hands on Art is a well-loved, full-fledged program, well supported by the community and the school district. Kids in schools throughout the Peninsula do four immersive projects a year. Each project takes an entire quarter, after which students start on the next after taking a short break as provided by the regular school break calendar. Each project is developed by a local artist, who is paid to contrive a project designed for elementary school children kindergarten through fifth. The artist is filmed, and volunteers from the community attend training nights where they learn how to facilitate the art in the classroom. Volunteers also learn the underlying basis for the art piece, which usually has deep cultural or historical roots. High-quality art supplies from Hands On Art are then divided into bins, along with the instructional video, and sent to schools where it is stored until the end of the project. Often students do at least one 3-D project a year. These projects are no small feats or simple paper mâché, as each one takes seven weeks to complete; ample time for students to discover their boundless individual talents.

“Art is something that can be learned. It takes practice. On some level, everyone is an artist,” says Karmen Furer of Hands On Art. These projects can be difficult, but according to Karmen, “Kids can do hard things.” And when you see how wonderfully these projects turn out, you see how true Karmen’s statement is. Especially in elementary schools, where students are learning basic skills such as how to hold scissors alongside how to mix paint. Practice develops muscle memory and expands the creative aptitude of each student, helping students create what they see both in their mind’s eye and what they see illustrated during instruction. These students really get immersed in the project, and they work hard. They turn out projects that encompass the whole context of the piece, both inspiring and cultivating an environment of healthy and relevant expression. Hands On Art provides an all-around experience. All this at no cost to parents or schools.

“Both privately and publicly, we really do have such wonderful community support,” Karmen affirms. The school district, and the community, really do show a phenomenal level of support. Hands On Art was started by parents, and even though the program has grown, it is still a direct result of the desires of the community. It is because of this support that Hands On Art is able to provide such a high caliber of art instruction. Because of Hands On Art in Peninsula schools, our students are shown limitless potential. When it comes to their creativity, there really are no boundaries. What they see, they can make. Kids really can do hard things.

For more information on how you can get involved, please visit

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